To be sure, Culver, situated on 1,500 acres along the banks of Lake Maxinkuckee, 45 miles south of South Bend, is hardly John Mellencamp's vision of rural, working-class Indiana. For $16,200 a year, students can take advantage of a curriculum that includes courses in aviation (Culver has two private runways), equitation (the school's cavalry, the largest active unit in the U.S., has performed at every presidential inauguration since 1957) and sailing. The stone and brick facades make Culver more closely resemble a college campus than a military installation.
The coed student body (girls were first admitted in 1971) must wear uniforms and adhere to a daily regimen that begins with a cannon boom to signal reveille at 6:30 a.m. "When we're at airports, people think we're postal service workers or a male cheerleading squad," says assistant captain Ty Blakeborough. "But the uniform sure makes it easy getting dressed in the morning. You always know what you're going to wear."
Despite a softening that came when Culver severed ties with the armed forces last year to focus more of its energies on preparing its 648 students for college, student pet peeves still revolve around the school's "little rules" and the ensuing penalties that befall those who don't comply with them. Punishment can include an extra hour of study hall if you forget to open your curtains in the morning, an hour of marching if you fail to empty your trash can, or washing windows if you're caught in a dread PDA. For the uninitiated, that's Public Display of Affection.
Gathered around an oak table in the school's cavernous cafeteria, several hockey team members sip hot chocolate as black-and-white cardboard bovines are being tacked to the walls. Students are preparing for this evening's dance, one with a farm theme. Someone standing on a nearby balcony tests the sound system, turning up the volume on Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, an arrogant anthem to youth that expresses the essence of the Culver hockey team. "We're the gods on this campus," says senior captain Jason Helbing.
If so, then Helbing is Zeus. A slick-skating forward bound for his coach's alma mater, Helbing is third on the Eagles in scoring (19 goals and 30 assists) and first in PDA penalty minutes. "Last month I had to march for an hour with a rifle in a basement," says Helbing.
Not surprisingly, the mere mortals in the school sometimes have trouble relating to its gods. "Individually they're cool," says freshman Towne Redington. "But together, they can be a bunch of cocky pucks."
No doubt the team's private lexicon—in which pucks are referred to as biscuits, the net is an oven and sticks are lumber—contributes to the players' arrogant reputation. "Hair is salad," says junior forward Nick Lamia, he of the Luke Perry-styled greens.
The Culver administration continually attempts to dispel the notion that hockey players receive preferential treatment, but the A team's busy travel schedule—including a European junket every other year—and the attention its success brings make that position a hard sell. In his soil-spoken way, Clark has done his best to deflate some of the larger egos. Before an away game last season, when several of the Eagles' best players were only a few feet from the bus, Clark ordered the doors closed because the boys were two minutes late. "Coach Clark combines an incredible knowledge of the game with the ability to work well with people," says assistant coach Rich Holdeman, who graduated from Culver in '85. "He commands fantastic respect without ever having to raise his voice."
Like most good coaches, Clark realizes that these are kids and that hockey is only a game. He never lets things get too serious. Between periods of a recent game against the College of DuPage (Ill.), with Culver leading 1-0, Clark addressed his charges. "My advice to you guys is to score more goals," he said, with all the emotion of, well, a mathematics teacher.
Although Clark doesn't have enough time to coach all three teams, he does attend the B and jayvee games. "We've got a line out there on the jayvee team that our president refers to as our tripod line, because the players on it have to have three points touching the ice to stay up," says Clark. "But what's important is that they're out there trying."